History Repeating

Monday, July 03, 2006 | 7:06 pm

Last weekend saw the World Cup quarter-finals leap into it's time machine, and take a fantastic journey. For the French, this was like drinking from the river of eternal youth, for the English, it was the ghost of World Cups past.

The first game saw England once-again stumble in familiar fashion. A Manchester prodigy got red-carded, a shorthanded game brought some grit, but no chance at real life, and once again, England fell at their greatest mental bugbear, the penalty shootout.

It didn't help that three of Englands penalty takers (Rooney, Beckham, J. Cole) were off the field by extra time, but make no mistake, Portugals Ricardo was a monster in goal, getting a hand on every penalty fired at his frame, except the unfortunate disallowed spot-kick by Carragher. Even Gerrard's shot was tame, and Frank Lampard, lauded as one of the best midfielders in the game capped a horrible tournament display with the a soft strike easily picked off.

But penalties or not, England did not establish any dominance. They stuck to a flair-less game plan from minute one, with Sven favouring 4-5-1 agan, and Rooney's frustration at not seeing much ball finally getting the better of him. If anything, Beckham's departure and Rooney's send off actually ignited some attacking play, with Lennon breaking space down the flank. And although lively and honest in his toil, the lanky Peter Crouch was never permitted to turn toward goal, neutered by Carvalho and outrun by the excellent Miguel (who blanked Robben in the previous game) The standout for England came from a man oft overlooked due to his participation in the Bundesliga but Owen Hargreaves ate up the turf in the second half like a madman, in both offense and defense, leaving more fancied midfielders gasping. And if there was any justice in this game, it was that Hargreaves penalty went in.

Some pity for poor old Theo Walcott, all the press attention, none of the playing time, even when Engand were reputedly short of strikers even before the injuries. The pre-tournament hype was that old Sven would abandon his safety-first approach with some risky undertakings, but no change was evident. So England sputtered to another quarter-final exit, and the media will blame Erikson, Rooney, and somehow Christiano Ronaldo.

 

But the wound-back clock came with good news, the Les Blues resurgent and a joy to watch, thanks primarily to the footballing masterclass put on by Zinedine Zidane. In the kind of performance that would have had any other sport reaching for the doping-test unit, Zizou's drug-o-choice seems to be beating Brazil, and the apparent tournament favourites looked truly impotent against the last team to beat them, squeezing off only one shot on goal. Standouts that were able to shine near Zidane's spotlight included a tough as nails Viera, and Frank Ribery demonstrating blinding pace and invention - lets hope he comes to Old Trafford as rumours would have it.

So the last South American team now slinks home carrying the weight of a million over-hyped headlines, Ronaldinho never allowed to play, Roberto Carlos found AWOL on Theirry Henry's goal, and the electric Brazilian reserves never given enough time to carve out their niche as Perreira preserved his skin by keeping his stars on the field, even though they never truly gelled. So it is that a Brazilian side that touted they will play to win not to excite, must now face their harshest critics back home , their supporters who demand they always play the beautiful game.

And so it is, teams of champions fall against the champion team.

Now, with Portugal winning themseves no friends, and my desire to see Italy out in the most ignominous fashion possible, a Germany v France final is a mouth watering possibility.

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